Be it an annual conference, offsite retreat or long-distance meeting, business travel can be one of the biggest strains on working families, especially for working moms who feel guilty about spending so much time away from their kids. Nobody knows this better than Lisa Bower, founder of Plus One Meetings, which companies hire to run infant and child-care programs during conferences so working parents can bring their kids with them on the road. Bower got the idea for her business from personal experience: “I was a marketing executive with Ernst and Young for 11 years, and I had four children during that time. Despite working at one of the top workplaces for working mothers, I struggled most when travel was on my agenda.”
Many moms would love to bring their children on work trips, Bower adds. When she worked at EY, she wished it was easier to bring her family to its yearly conference in Orlando so she could tack on a couple of vacation days and make a trip that was both enriching for her career and fun for her family. “It’s important for employers to think about this seriously,” she says. “Statistics show that a lot of top performers aren’t taking all of their vacation, and it takes a toll. That can impact a company financially because it could end up losing some of its best employees to burnout, or it could be reflected in other healthcare costs if people are going out sick or having other stress-related issues because they’re not taking enough time to spend with family.”
The best companies try to make it easier for working parents to achieve work life integration while on the road—especially nursing moms. “Plus One Meetings has a partnership with Limerick, which is one of the largest lactation consultant firms in the country,” says Bower. “We have mobile nursing suites we can set up in a meeting that has video and audio connectivity back into the meeting, so a mom can step out to pump and not miss the content of the session. That’s huge!” Amenities like this give a company a reputation of going above and beyond for working moms. “It’s really branding for that company,” she says.
Still, whether your company is striving to make the path smoother for working mothers on the road or not, sometimes business travel is unavoidable. Bower, an experienced pro at business travel, offers this advice.
1. Don’t let the guilt overwhelm. Workmoms need to give themselves a break and allow that, sometimes, time spent traveling for work—and away from family—is necessary. “As much as we want to be there for every single event in our children’s lives, really we don’t have to be, and we need to give ourselves a break in that regard,” counsels Bower. Our kids will know we still love them even if we miss that odd basketball game or piano recital. Instead of dwelling on the guilt, focus on the good: “You’re really setting a wonderful example for them,” she says. “You’re following your career passion, and you want them to see that.”
2. Be in constant contact. For younger kids, send texts with selfies from different places: “This is Mommy in the meeting now.” Kids will love seeing you in action, and you’ll continue setting that good workmom example. For older children, pack some postcards—which can even be prewritten on the plane—with silly, fun messages like knock-knock jokes or lists of what you miss most about being home. Or write a note of encouragement and have whoever is watching the kids sneak it into their backpacks.
3. Bring along a familiar face. “If you have more of a creative or silly spirit, bring a toy or stuffed animal that belongs to your child and take pictures of that toy in different locations on your trip”: Send photos of the teddy bear in the conference room or on the airplane—all different, fun locations (think: Flat Stanley)—so your child feels a part of them is with you.” And if you asked a lot of moms who do this, says Bower, “you’ll find the toy was tucked under their arms in bed at night.” A win-win!
4. Plan a coming-home activity. Let your kids know ahead of time that when you return you’ll take them on a fun outing, like to the movies or the zoo. “Instead of counting the days and focusing on the time that Mommy’s not here,” Bower says, “they’ll have something positive to look forward to.”
5. If it’s possible, bring the kids with you. If they’re the right age and circumstances permit, try bringing the kids along even if your company doesn't accommodate for them at meetings. “Maybe you can bring someone with you, say, a grandparent who’s looking for some one-on-one time with the grandkids,” Bower suggests. "Or a babysitter or a nanny. The challenge here is that it does add some additional cost.” If that's out of the question, “a lot of hotels have kiddie clubs, so you can still attend meetings while your child takes part in some fun activities.” In this case, you’ll probably only be able to bring children who are potty-trained, and the hotel programs might end early in the afternoon, so do your research first.